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United States v. Waldrip

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 12, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Steven Waldrip, a/k/a "Steve-O", Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued April 4, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 14-cr-40050 - Sara Darrow, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Kanne and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Steven Waldrip of distributing heroin under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Because death resulted from the use of that heroin, Waldrip faced a twenty-year mandatory-minimum sentence. § 841(b)(1)(C). The district court sentenced him to 280 months. On appeal, Waldrip argues that the government provided insufficient evidence to prove that the heroin was a but-for cause of the victim's death, that § 841(b)(1)(C) is unconstitutionally vague, and that his 280-month sentence violates the Eighth Amendment's proportionality requirement. We reject those claims.

         I. Background

         This case concerns a drug deal between Waldrip and Kathi Sweeney and Kyle Wilson. Sweeney and Wilson's relationship had an inauspicious beginning: they met at a rehab facility in Rock Island, Illinois, where each was receiving treatment-Sweeney for alcoholism and Wilson for heroin addiction. Wilson's stay was short lived. After just three days, he decided that the treatment was ineffective and left. But before he left, Sweeney agreed to take him to a different facility once she left the one in Rock Island.

         After she had completed her treatment, Sweeney picked Wilson up at a bus stop, intending to take him to another rehab facility. Wilson testified that Sweeney was "highly intoxicated" and that she asked him if he "wanted to get high one more time" before going back to rehab. (R. 60 at 57.) Wilson said yes and began calling known dealers. After unsuccessfully reaching out to several others, Wilson called Waldrip, his go-to guy for heroin over the previous year.

         After reaching Waldrip, Sweeney and Wilson drove to Waldrip's house. Waldrip got into Sweeney's car and gave Sweeney directions to another location. There, Sweeney and Wilson gave Waldrip forty dollars for two bags of heroin- each containing one-tenth of a gram. Waldrip left and returned about an hour later with the heroin. Afterwards, Sweeney and Wilson took Waldrip back to his house.

         Sweeney then drove Wilson to a local CVS, where she purchased the necessary supplies for injecting heroin. In the parking lot, Wilson injected himself and Sweeney.

         Sweeney reacted to the heroin almost immediately, locking up and passing out. After initially panicking and leaving, Wilson returned to the car and started to take Sweeney to a hospital. But on the way, Sweeney woke up and told him to take her home. There, Wilson put a bag of frozen peas on Sweeney's chest while she lay on her couch-an apparent attempt at preventing Sweeney from dying. Wilson stayed at Sweeney's house that night.

         The next morning, Wilson woke up suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Wilson needed heroin but lacked money, so he stole some of Sweeney's belongings to pawn for cash. He then left Sweeney's house for good. Later that day, Sweeney's sister found Sweeney dead on the couch.

         Wilson claimed that Sweeney was alive when he left her house and that he did not know Sweeney was dead until the next day when a detective stopped him and started questioning him. Additional investigation led detectives to Waldrip. Several weeks later, in return for a reduced sentence, Wilson agreed to testify that Waldrip sold Sweeney and Wilson the heroin. Officers arrested Waldrip after an undercover DEA agent bought heroin from Waldrip three separate times. The government charged Waldrip with one count of distributing heroin to Sweeney and Wilson and three counts of distributing heroin to the undercover agent. § 841(a)(1). Because Sweeney died from using the heroin that Waldrip sold, the government sought an enhanced sentence under § 841(b)(1)(C) for count one. Waldrip pled guilty to the last three counts but went to trial on the first.

         At trial, Waldrip agreed to stipulate that two government experts-one a pathologist and the other a forensic toxicologist-would testify that, but for her use of heroin right before her death, Sweeney would not have died. Both ...


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